Two summers ago I became a frequent patron of Pearls Café in Waterton. One of my favourite pass-times was to sit on the patio with a nice glass of white wine and light lunch, watching the world go by in the dusk of the late afternoon. It was here in the Pearls library that I discovered Charlie Russell’s Book “Life with the Brown Bears of Kamchatka” (co-authored by Maureen Ems).
The beautiful photographs and narrative chronicals how Charlie and Maureen adopted and raised 3 orphaned bear cubs. Charlie and Maureen operated on the premise that bears are not inherently dangerous, but invasive human contact such as poaching and hunting makes them so. By choosing a remote geographic location in Russia - not unlike Waterton in its state of pristine natural beauty - but extremely isolated from the general population where bears had limited contact with humans, their project was able to succeed.
The story and pictures captivated my imagination and transported me to another world, and I came back to Pearls often to settle in with the book for a cozy hour and read it.
Imagine my surprise and delight when I learned that Charlie Russell, who had passed the point of legend in mind long ago and become some sort of mythical being, friend of the animals imbued with impressive powers (images of Charlie swimming with the bears, fly-fishing with them, Charlie taking the bears for walks, bears taking Charlie for walks come to mind), lived just outside of my Waterton! Well this simply had to be more than mere coincidence…. and thus began my elusive hunt for Charlie Russell….
Let me tell you, Charlie Russell is not an easy guy to find. I saw more bears in the park that summer than any other, increasing my own perceived connection to Charlie and the likelihood in my mind that we were destined or pre-ordained for a meeting. However, maybe Charlie just didn’t know it yet.
It seemed that I was always just missing him. Friends told me: “Oh Charlie was in such and such a restaurant this afternoon,” “I saw Charlie over by the ice-cream shop,” “Oh, Charlie comes in here all the time.” But the more I searched for him, it seemed the less likely I was to find him.
Out for lunch one afternoon, I overheard a couple pestering the server about the exact whereabouts of Charlie Russell. It seemed that - they too - had read the book “Life with the Brown Bears of Kamchatka.” “How pathetic,” I thought to myself. “You just never you mind where Charlie Russell lives,” and as I was on the verge of shooting them a dirty look, the irony suddenly hit me, followed by a hollow feeling of loss. He was not my Charlie Russell...
Charlie Russell had instilled in me the same feeling one gets when viewing a beautiful scene in nature, the desire to capture it and encapsulate it for one’s self in some small way (whether with your mind or a photograph). This however is always done in futility, as nature is something separate from ourselves. So with my self-discovery in hand, rather than try to eavesdrop and discover the exact whereabouts of Charlie Russell, it was then and there that I gave up my hunt for the elusive man.
Funnily enough, about a month later I was driving towards Waterton with my fiancé – who calls Charlie Russell my “Hollywood Boyfriend” - when he shouted “There he is! There's the guy! That’s Charlie Russell!!” I was overcome with excitement as the small car raced towards us on the highway, craning my neck to get the best view of the immortal man; in only a moment he was gone. With that, I had my Charlie Russell encounter...There was no halo of light, no eureka moment, no transcendence. Surprisingly, he looked just like an ordinary man...
I haven’t seen Charlie since and while I no longer allow myself to hunt for him, I must ask you dear reader, if you see Charlie Russell please tell him I am looking for him.
By Auralea Boldt